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Enemies Fomenting Labor Discord, Says Khamenei

Hundreds of steel workers demonstrated in front of Khouzestan Governor's headquarters. They have not received wages for three months..
Hundreds of steel workers demonstrated in front of Khouzestan Governor's headquarters. They have not received wages for three months..

In the heat of momentous labor protests and debate over setting a minimum wage, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused “enemies” of fomenting discord among Iran’s work force.

“One of the major activities of our enemies has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our groups of laborers -- particularly the big ones -- so they can provoke the workers,” Khamenei said in one of his shortest speeches ever, addressing the Congress Of 14,000 Martyred Laborers on February 5.

In the same speech, which was published three weeks later, Khamenei praised Iranian workers for their firm support of the Islamic Revolution, saying, “Our workers have always stood firm. They have always rejected the enemy in an insightful manner.”

The “enemy”, as a rule, is a word used by Iranian authorities to describe the United States or Israel.

Without reference to the current widespread labor protests or the fact that many labor activists were arrested, forced into exile, or executed during the 1980s, Khamenei maintained, “Anti-revolutionaries have failed to agitate workers against the Islamic Republic.”

Meanwhile, labor protests have continued in several cities across the country. On February 26, workers of the Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group assembled in front of the governor-general’s office to continue their protests for an eighth day, demanding payment of three months’ overdue wages.

The protesters, who have been deprived of timely salaries, social security premiums, and supplementary insurance, sarcastically chanted acerbic slogans such as “Down with the labor, hail to the tyrant.”

The protests started on February 18, when almost 4,000 furious workers blocked the gates of the complex to demand wage arrears, insisting they would halt all production lines until their demands were met.

Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group, a lucrative complex established in 1960s during the reign of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi, was “privatized” by the Islamic Republic and under unknown conditions was “sold” to Amir Mansour Aria, aka Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, who was executed on charges of embezzling almost $1 billion in 2011.

Later, the steelworks were handed over to Iran’s judiciary. The judiciary then transferred the company to Bank Melli Iran.

In October 2017, the bank gave company ownership to another businessman, Abdolreza Mousavi, managing director of Zagros Airline, who also owns a major soccer club in Ahvaz and two hotels on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf.

Without any elaboration, Mousavi has maintained that some “malicious elements” among his workers are behind the protests.

However, Ahvaz MP Ali Sari told state-run news agency Mehr on February 26, “This steel complex has recently been sold by a bank to someone who lacks [financial] capability, and the workers’ problems have persisted due to this wrong decision.”

Nevertheless, without referring to any financial sources, Sari promised that Iran National Steel Industrial Group’s workers would receive their overdue wages by the end of the current Iranian fiscal year beginning March 21.

However, the workers of Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group are not alone in their tribulation. Workers at the Qazvin steel mill, Arman Shafaq company in Takestan, Varna Dairy, Ahabco in Tehran, Gholaman Dam in Northern Khorasan Province, Boot Service in Kish, Hepco in Arak, Saman Tiles in Boroujerd, Haft Tapeh sugar mill, Abadan oil refinery contractors, Rangin in Semnan, and the Mahshahr Petrochemical Complex are some of other industrial units whose workers have not been paid for months.

According to labor activists, the protracted nonpayment of workers’ salaries is one of the major problems facing Iranian workers. The problem has led to labor unrest in various parts of Iran.

Furthermore, Iranian workers say the official monthly minimum wage is not enough for 10 days.

The current monthly minimum wage in Iran is roughly $200 per month and was set two years ago. The independent trade unions say $1,050 per month would be sufficient for the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB), defined by the United Nations as the goods a household requires to meet basic needs.